The Menace of Mechanical Music


The following illustrations are from John Philip Sousa's article in Appleton's Magazine, "The Menace of Mechanical Music," September 1906.

Questions in popular culture about recorded music vs. live music are ongoing although the benefits and accessibility of recorded music seem obvious and numerous. But the disparity between the people who actually attend live music and those who essentially never leave their earbuds is growing, also evidenced by the number of streaming counts reported by streaming services. Although Sousa's fears were overstated, he shouldn't be completely dismissed.



Appleton's Magazine and John Philip Sousa's article "The Menace of Mechanical Music," reprinted by The Talking Machine World, August 1906.




Aristotle and the Automated Harp (ca. 350 BCE)

Aristotle circa 350 BCE saw the possibility of an automated harp in the context of how mankind could be freed up by automation to pursue wisdom and not on drudgery tasks of daily life.

In the Politics (c. 350 BCE) Aristotle describes the condition where "each (inanimate) instrument could do its own work, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation, like the statues of Daedalus or the tripods made by Hephaestus, of which Homer relates that

“Of their own motion they entered the conclave of Gods on Olympus” as if a shuttle should weave of itself, and a plectrum should do its own harp playing.


An Edison ad presents Sousa's "unwilling tribute" to the Phonograph

Edison Phonograph Monthly, January 1907


"All good music is patriotic"

The Talking Machine World Supplement, November 1917


Courtesy Lynn Johnston, December 22, 2021


Hearing a song played over and over can be annoying to those who don't like the song. Repetition of a song is also one of the ways music can be embedded in the brain, sometimes known as an earworm.

See Our Song for a Friends of the Phonograph story about how a recorded song can remain as a memory long after "our old record player gave up and died."


For an excellent article about recorded sound with references to Sousa, see "The Record Effect" By Alex Ross, The New Yorker, May 29, 2005.

Also recommended by Ross are the following:

“Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music” by Mark Katz, University of California Press, 2010.

“Setting the Record Straight: A Material History of Classical Recording” by Colin Symes, Wesleyan University Press, 2004.

“Performing Music in the Age of Recording” by Robert Philip, Yale University Press, 2014.